29 March 2007

Michael Crichton is stoopid.

Michael Crichton is an idiot. I listened to a podcast this morning of his participation in a debate about global warming. He stood resolved: global warming is not a crisis. Before hearing this debate I would have greed with the resolution, but not because I deny that anthropocentric warming is occurring but because the impact of said warming is not a crisis.

Crichton, however, had a different argument, one that did not prove the resolution. He argued that poverty kills millions of people a year in preventable deaths and that environmentalists were draining funds from preventing these deaths to some future possible crisis. He then reduced environmentalists to be head-in-the-sand deniers of suffering. This is a weak argument and it exposed Crichton for what I had always feared he was: a moron that can write.

His argument does nothing to the resolution. It addresses neither the impact nor the validity of the global warming debate. The true test is if his opponents, those who argued global warming is a crisis, could agree with his argument that environmental resources could be spent instead on poverty prevention. The answer is yes, and therefore is not in competition with the resolution’s negation.

Leave it to a wealthy person that is not charitable enough to stave off his sense of guilt by blaming the philanthropists of callousness. The environmentalists rallying around global warming are anything but callous moralizers. These are people that see deleterious effects, present or future, caused by our way of living. If anyone is oblivious it would be Crichton for failing to see beyond immediate impacts.

I thought Jurassic Park was an excellent book, one which not only entertained but also sparked scientific interest in non-scientific circles. However, maybe there is a time for Crichton to stop talking in scientific circles and return to what he does best: entertaining the masses.

14 March 2007

Tickner 1994

The masculinity of war depends, therefore, on the myth that women are being protected. Spike Peterson has argued that rethinking the meaning of protection is a crucial component of efforts to address problems of world security. By exposing the protector/protected myth we can deepen our understanding of the real victims of direct violence. The National Organization for Women has estimated that up to 90 percent of total casualties in conflicts since 1945 have been civilians, the majority of them women and children. Moreover, as Judith Stiehm points out, if we are to think of men as protectors we must remember they are usually protecting women from other men.
Feminist theory also draws our attention to the issue of domestic violence, which is prevalent but generally underreported and not legislated against in most societies. By pointing to the high incidence of domestic violence in military families and in militarized societies, feminist perspectives can deepen our understanding of the connection between militarism and sexism. Peterson also asserts that the way notions of protection have traditionally been constructed by the state contributes to the reproduction of hierarchies, including gender hierarchies, and hence to the structural violence against which states say they offer protection. Tickner, Anne. 1994. Peace and world security studies: A curriculum guide. 47-8.

This passage needs little work to serve as an explanation for what is happening in Iraq. While some may see Tickner arguing for a conspiracy against women, I see her argument differently. Women tend to bear the brunt of war because military planners unintentionally overlook some of the horrors of war. The main way this overlooking is done is by the militaries assessments of damage. The military is understandably concerned with attrition rates to enemy combatants and less so to the damage done to noncombatants. I will not say the military is callous, however, as I do think they give some concern to non-combatants, but the damage they measure is the damage done by bombs and ammunition. The damage measured is not the damage caused by, for example, the destruction of a dam and the concomitant loss of running water, electricity and the industries powered by the dam – hospitals, pharmaceutical firms, food preparation firms and other essential firms.

Because the military - even the engaged, shocked and awed military - has rations and drugs, it seems the men of that very military are less affected by the disruptions caused by a war. It is also understandable how a military actuary would overlook the cost of these disruptions, since they are not dependent upon such services in their own respect. For example, when ascertaining the cost of destroying a dam in southern Iraq it is understandable that Captain Moore overlooks some things because those aspects of living are not within his realm of experience. I do not know if Tickner goes so far as to claim all war is bad. If she does then I will diverge from her there, as it seems there are times when maybe things can be improved. The problem though is in those assessments of cost and benefit. If history is indicator though, it seems we as a species need some improvement in our calculations.

We can easily see Tickner’s second paragraph at work in Iraq. The US argument all along was to protect the oppressed in Iraq and to liberate them. That message is now being used against us as the insurgents are targeting civilians. While these civilian killings undermine support for the occupation in Iraq, it also damages US credibility abroad as a capable protection force. The occupation in Iraq has ended up hurting, some would say more than Hussein’s Baath Party, those whose original protection was a justification for invasion.

26 February 2007

Is my girlfriend battered?

I know she is not, but reading a law review article about battered women brought up a recent memory.

Stereotypes and myths exist, such as “Blacks just like to fight”, “Latinas are hot blooded,” and “Asian women are trained for this sort of thing.” These sterotypes and cultural myths serve to place battered women of color in opposition to the image of the white battered woman who is the norm. Morrisson, Adele. 2006, March. Deconstructing the image repertoire of women of color. U.C. Davis Law Review, 39, 1081. 1083.

It is interesting that I should come across after what happened last week. A friend of my girlfriend and I, I will call him Jonah, came back into town and we went out to meet him and my best friend (who introduced us to him). By the time we arrived both of the guys were drunk. Jonah had spent a lot of time with my girlfriend the previous summer when I was out of town for an extended business trip. I knew Jonah had feelings for her, and while we had never talked about it, I knew that she also knew how he felt.

He was drunk and very touchy feely. He had moved away about 7 months ago and it seemed he still liked her. She was uncomfortable but I did not know how uncomfortable, so I did not intervene. Now, she is not known for being tactful when she feels disabused, so I did not think too much about the hanging-on going on. She was being polite and if I saw she wanted me to intervene then I would.

I would also be hesitant to intervene without solicitation because I would worry that I was being the jealous boyfriend. I have always worried that that hesitation would come back to haunt me. At one point the three of them found their way to the bar, as I was talking to an older acquaintance. I guess Jonah started kissing her neck and she was obviously uncomfortable. My best friend intervened; hearing her describe it makes me really proud to be his friend. The situation seemed resolved.

I was finally tired of chasing the drunk boys around, and she needed to wake up early for work the next day, so I decided it was time to leave. Jonah said some things to her that were beyond appropriate, so much so that she did not tell me until we returned home, because while the threshold may be too high I would have acted. But that is irrelevant to the passage above.

My concern is that because my girlfriend is feistier than most, do people that know her not step up to defend her when they should because of her reputation? Discussing it later that night she did say that she feels constrained by her reputation. She worries about even speaking up sometime because she fears being dismissed as being argumentative. I told her to never hesitate when she feels uncomfortable, maybe other times she should be less argumentative, but not in these instances.

As an analogy I worry that I am the criminal justice system by not being responsive enough to her concerns out of concern for the myth of “being hot blooded”. I also have the other hesitation, the concern of being too involved and jealous, but this only compounds my worries. I am thankful that my best friend acted. It sounds like the situation was so over the top that even I would have acted, but I am not so sure. I like to think I would have acted.

22 February 2007

Swivel rocks!

Swivel is a new web site that provides data sets on all kinds of stuff. The site will also run analyses and I am sure things much more complicated than I am able to understand on differing data sets.

I thought this was a funny set. I would like to see this data placed into a time series over the 47 years the data was collected from. I am curious to see how much smaller the more contemporary playmates are than the ones from years past.

Chaloupka 1992

This pace seems to represent assurance, but this is always paradoxical. Pace no longer represents competence; now, it is a reversal. New destabilizers constantly emerge to confound the stability of the nuclear age. The signs of safety continually appear as accompaniments of chaos, and the inherently chaotic (the nuke) raises possibilities of a more managed society than anyone had ever imagined. Reagan’s well-known inability to understand how our “defensive” capabilities could appear obviously “offensive” to the Soviets is only a symptom of a larger tendency that pervades nuclearism. As Gary Willis has explained, resources will inevitably be confused with intentions; resources become the sign of intentions, and the reality of the sign is continually overestimated, perhaps more so when the stakes are higher.

Naturally, the enemy’s intent and willpower are less visible than his resources; so we overestimate them in much larger degree – this is called the “worst-case” scenario. If we must presume the worst in order to be prepared for anything, then the slightest increase in enemy resources must be read as part of a larger design being implemented. Even a cutback in one area will be read as an economy called for by greater expenditure elsewhere.

Transposed into the reverse logic of deterrence, the consequence is that assessments of enemy strength – a more or less routine affair in peacetime – become permanent destabilizers when the balance of terror is institutionalized. The rationalistic management that modern nuclearists proclaim as their achievement will continually threaten to produce aggression and unbalanced terror. In such a strange setting, as Deleuze and Guattari explain, desire will stage breakouts along all sorts of unexpected lines. Chaloupka, William. 1992. Knowing nukes. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press. 76-77.

The block quotation (that I have marked in bold) from Chaloupka here is a citation from Gary Willis’ Critical Inquiry 1982 article. As a combination of security studies and rhetoric this is an important book for me. What I remember not being adequately dealt with by Chaloupka is the break in thinking which supposedly occurred with the development of nuclear arsenals. I tend to think people were always nuclear a la Latour’s “we have always been modern.”

People have always known their lives are fragile and may come to a sudden end beyond their control. The advent of a nuclear arsenal overseas did not change this. There is the risk of a sudden cessation collectively. The immediate move into the remainder-less world might now be a new concern ushered in by nuclear weapons, but how this has wide reaching changes in signification I am not sure. Regardless, the passage above is important, especially to-day.

The new destabilizers to-day are easy to see: terrorism and their mechanisms such as email, cell phones, and porous borders. The signs of safety that accompany these destabilizers are border patrols, the National Security Administration and their Predator program, the Patriot Act and military commissions just to name a few. It is hardly contentious that these mechanisms have led to a more managed and manageable society.

The contentious part is the Gary Willis block quotation. The Bush Administration has become the ultimate peddler of the worst-case scenario. According to statements we are to believe that not only Iraq but also that al Qaeda was/are nuclear threats. The lack of evidence proving the nuclear threat is spun to mean that al Qaeda is not seeking nuclear weapons because they (here we will find carefully inserted words such as ‘may’ or ‘might’ or ‘possibly’, but the message is the same: be afraid) have nuclear weapons. The worst-case scenario then becomes a lens through which al Qaeda is viewed. If there is movement from Afghanistan it means al Qaeda is leaving and taking the offensive. If there is silence it means al Qaeda is preparing for a spring offensive.

This lens will produce a ratchet of violence. Tensions will always be escalating and the other will see every action one side takes as aggressive. This is easily seen in the bin Laden assessments. Initially he was just a Saudi critic, but his threat assessment has gradually ramped up, sometimes as a result of a violent action and sometimes not. For example we can look to his early statements, which have now been entirely discounted. Initially bin Laden claimed to want the US out of the Kingdom (the Kingdom is not just Saudi Arabia, but also the holy land of Mecca and Medina.) Those claims are now dismissed (whereas his more radical and catastrophic claims are uncritically accepted as truth) by our administration as lies to make him seem more moderate and appealing to others. Signs of moderation are seen as recruitment attempts. Is this not the perfect example of Willis’ “even a cutback in one area will be read as… greater expenditure elsewhere”?

Iran is another illustration. Not only does Bush fall into this pattern when looking at Iran, but it is this very pattern that allowed Ahmadinejad to be elected. Iranian aid to Shiites in Iraq is seen as an anti-US gesture, when it may possibly be merely a means to protect a minority, which faces violent persecution. The US media, Bush is not alone in this error, links Iraqi insurgents into one anti-US group. There are places in Iraq where the Shiite insurgents and the US troops are fighting the same enemy and Iran might possibly be helping US forces.

What was the threat to US interests when the Iranian revolution occurred? Why was it treated with such disdain? Our response was to arm Iraq and the Baath party; Saddam Hussein was our preferred weapon against Iran. And now we are bogged down in Iraq trying to clean up that mess while Iran has reacted to our hostilities and moved into a new tier of US threat assessments. The Iraq war is misnamed. This is all the same battle of the US versus Iran, which is really a battle of modern forces versus conservative forces. It is odd that the preferred weapon of the US to fight these conservative forces is an evangelical President that has celebrated his disavowal of nuance. Instead of focusing on killing the conservative forces, maybe we ought to instead focus on converting those forces. The real question then becomes the one Chaloupka finds begged by Deleuze and Guattari: what is the desire of modernity, which keeps staging breakouts in all these unexpected lines?

12 February 2007

National Review Watch: Mansourian

To-day’s National Review piece to be scrutinized is by Farhad Mansourian who is a research fellow at the Center for Promotion of Democracy & Human Rights. His piece is short yet it is packed with arguments and assumptions that need to be dissected. This article comes on the heels of increased public discussions about reconciling with Iran and is an attempt to silence those calls by arguing for a continuation of a hard-line approach while “aiding internal efforts that strive to bring about democratic regime change from within.” I am not sure exactly what these internal efforts are or whom they are going to and I get the impression that Mansourian does not know either.

My alternative would allow for some sort of rapprochement with Iran and also allow some of these same internal efforts Mansourian lauds. By removing the demonization, I contend, moderates would have increased leverage in their contestations with non-moderates and would then be able to reform the government. People voted for Ahmadinejad because they feel increasingly antagonized by the outside world and felt he was the best way to regain some strength. Removing this fear and opprobrium might just be enough to keep people from voting for him and others like him.

Mansourian claims my policy would fail because there is no room for moderation in Iranian politics because “all Iranian politicians, regardless of faction, are subject to the dictates of the Supreme Leader.” I will hesitatingly posit that this is correct, but it still does not defeat my prescription. The Supreme Leader’s dictates are not to wipe Israel off the map. Those dictates are not to engage in a violent struggle; rather they can be interpreted as such. Those dictates can also be interpreted to allow Iran to play a more constructive role more in line with US interests. What is needed is a moderate government that interprets those dictates in such a way. Mansourian’s argument about the one style politics is a contradiction with his later claim, which I discussed above. Mansourian’s prescription is to foment internal change, yet he forecloses that very possibility in my prescription. Why does this argument carry weight with the soft-line policy and not in the hard-line policy? If anything it would be easier for the more powerful members of Iranian society to create change than the more marginalized groups, which Mansourian seems to champion.

There is one other argument Mansourian makes that needs to be addressed. He claims the soft-line policy would teach the ayatollahs to foment chaos in the region. However, Mansourian again betrays himself. He says they will “sense that all they have to do is keep the Middle East in chaos.” The word I want to focus on is ‘keep’. The Middle East is already in conflict so where then is the risk of the soft-line policy? Iran is actively fomenting chaos under a US hard-line approach. Maybe the soft-line approach, for a change, is the way out of the morass into a new status quo. Mansourian hints at what would be his response: deterrence. The US can punish Iran for bellicose behavior by letting them “understand that there are consequences to their actions.” This punitive function of US foreign policy, I contend, lacks credibility in to-day’s world. The US military is over-extended and US public opinion for another engagement with a larger-then-Iraq adversary is likely to be non-existent. A punitive option would also be easier to secure with a soft-line policy because it can then be demonstrated that we tried and Iran is intractable in their aggression. Not only would the world be more in line with our policy (see Putin’s recent comments) but US public opinion would also be more easily secured.

Mansourian wants the US to match Iranian bluster with American bluster, meanwhile people are dying and an irreversible course towards more chaos and death is being set upon. It is time for a change and as long as we keep up the saber rattling we cannot honestly expect the change to come from Tehran first. It is time to look within and realize how we have helped create this mess.

02 February 2007

National Review Watch: Krauthammer

To-day’s sample from the National Review is an article by Charles Krauthammer called “Iraq’s choice.” I chose this article because I am familiar with Krauthammer as one of the most hawkish of pundits yet also one of the most intelligent. I find his arguments are usually well laid out and are not typical of many conservative pundits, especially those published by the National Review. This article is consistent with my take on Krauthammer.

Where many would have blamed ‘liberals’ for treasonous disrespect to the US, Krauthammer merely disagrees with Zakaria. Krauthammer’s argument is that the US did not bring Iraq a civil war, rather some Iraqis chose this course of action. Krauthammer admits some mistakes on the US’s part, but those mistakes did not necessitate such a response.

There are not any sweeping claims. Rather I find this article to be a sober assessment whose only crime is that it resides in a literature base usually containing unsupported sweeping claims.

29 January 2007

Jasser 2007

M. Zuhdi Jasser has a rant typical of the National Review’s rigorous standards of misreading and knee-jerk reactions. His beef is with the Council on American Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) press release about the new season of 24. Supposedly CAIR has made the traditional announcement: condemnation without an acceptance of the reality that Islamic terrorism is carried out by Muslims.

Jasser tries to clarify that there are Muslims that do pose a threat to the US. As if CAIR did not know that. Going to their website after reading Jasser’s article I found no mention about the evils of media representation but rather I found 2 types of stories, stories about peaceful and courageous Muslim Americans and stories about the cowardice and misunderstandings of terrorists.

What makes me upset about Jasser’s article is not what he wants. I agree that there should be a more visible Muslim community preaching against Islamic extremism. But Jasser’s article is so typical of conservative articles these days - there is a ‘liberal’ statement which the conservative reduces to a caricature of the ‘typical liberal sentiment’. It is not only easy to refute these caricatures but it also continues a mischaracterization of traditionally liberal sentiments.

CAIR’s argument is not that 24 should not have Islamic extremism as its antagonist. Rather CAIR wants to caution that some viewers may not see a distinction among Muslims and Islamic extremists. Jasser, however, reduces CAIR’s argument to the more outlandish claim of villainization of 24.

Jasser calls for more Muslims to take an active role in publicly fighting Islamic extremism, which seems to be exactly what CAIR is doing. Because Jasser goes to such pleasure denouncing CAIR he cannot then offer CAIR as an example of his mission.

There is another problem with Jasser’s argument, however. His argument that there is no visible Muslim community arguing against extremism proves CAIR’s warning. CAIR is worried that such common portrayals of Muslims as extremists means people stop seeing peaceful Muslim actions as peaceful but rather as part of a conspiracy against modernity and the West. Hence any public condemnation of extremism would be dismissed and hence not carried into the mainstream press. If Jasser is correct about the irrelevancy of CAIR then that only proves CAIR’s argument.

Jasser is right, there need to be more Muslim figures decrying the evils of Islamic extremism. We also need stories about Islamic extremism, if for no other reason than because it is the source of common national anxiety. What we do not need however is this traditional conservative lashing out at traditionally liberal places. Sometimes the conservative authors are so wrapped up in their projects that they misread and misappropriate messages as a liberal conspiracy. The first paragraph of Jasser’s article demonstrates this extremism.

24 January 2007


Jodi over at I Cite makes a concession to K-Punk about Gibson’s Apocalytpo. She allows Gibson to be removed from the discussion by saying the movie is not apocalyptic in the relevant sense. This is nonsense.

Clearly the movie is relevant to the state of the world to-day, but this is not the discussion at hand amongst these bloggers. But the movie is relevant precisely because of its name. This is a guess, but I doubt few would disagree with me that Gibson shares some of the millennial impulses being discussed. While the apocalypse in the movie seems to be no large issue to us, as the new world was the formation of our current world, it was a large break for the people in the movie.

Gibson’s use of the word as the title seems to be an immunization to the very concept. People see the movie as the embodiment of an apocalypse and are inoculated to an apocalypse because that one did not seem so bad. Good, even. So, now these same people are witness to a discussion about apocalypse and are desensitized to the magnitude of the upheaval and suffering that can accompany the change.

I share Jodi’s sense of dread not so much at the cited apocalypse but at the citing. Too many people are now talking about it, on both sides. I fear the discussion is becoming saturated and people are becoming desensitized to it.

Brilmayer 1994

Here is a paragraph from Lea Brilmayer, a professor of international relations at Yale University, which does an admirable job representing one of the arguments made by the neoconservatives:

Even if all states would like an agreement not to build nuclear weapons, there are formidable practical problems with constructing a compliance regime because enforcement is costly and few states are willing to contribute to the cost. The hegemon has more to lose from violations than smaller states (both because it is large and because it is more subject to nuclear threat). Its existence makes a nonproliferation regime possible, because smaller states would not get enough benefit to make it worthwhile to enforce the regimes themselves. Enforcement of nonproliferation treaties by the United States is a public good; for when states keep their promises to the United States, they are simultaneously keeping their promises to one another. The smaller states can all free-ride on the willingness of the United States to undertake the cost of enforcement, and in this way they benefit from American hegemony. (American hegemony: Political morality in a one-superpower world, 1994, page 118)

This is a typical realist explanation of proliferation motivations. The obvious answer, I will call it the ‘empirically denied argument’, others will make to this argument is that it is an old theory and recent events (if post-94 events, 1995, can be considered recent) disprove the theory. That argument goes something like this: since 1995 the US has been the sole hegemon with few drains on its willingness to fight and ability to do so. But there have been proliferation efforts regardless of the US presence, forcing the above theory to be inaccurate.

However, instead of disproving the argument, it actually helps bolster Brilmayer’s argument. The realist conception says a nation will not pursue nuclear weapons because it is not in their interest (the weapons are not needed and therefore those resources would be wasted.) But, what if the hegemon were seen to be a menace to one of these free-riding states? It seems the realist account would then explain why some nations do proliferate. The empirically denied argument then uses the Brilmayer thesis to explain why Iran and North Korea did begin proliferation efforts.

This is not to say the Brilmayer view is complete. There are surely other factors that influence a state’s decisions than just the security dilemma. Iran is a great case study here, because the Persian people have a culture that actively remembers itself as great. Darius, after all, once challenged Alexander the Great not just for regional supremacy but also for global domination. Nuclear weapons have a status and can be seen as granting a status to those that possess them.

What does this mean for current US policy towards Iran? I contend it means the US should take a more conciliatory approach to Iran. The stability of the unipolar world was not seen to include Iran because of US condemnation since 1980. Maybe a more friendly approach would have staved off the current crisis. It also seems the harder the line we draw with Iran the more we emphasize a fundamental difference between Iran and the US, the gap in military proficiency. By emphasizing Iran’s deficiency we only make it more attractive for Iran to close that gap. The quickest and easiest way to do that is by acquiring nuclear weapons. I will concede the possibility that the genie is out of the bottle and a concillatory approach now would be too little too late. That is a subject for later exploration

17 January 2007

Stem Cell Update: Stauble Sr.

Here’s a fantastical ditty published to-day about the evils of embryonic stem cell research. Ron J. Stauble Sr. thinks the research must of course kill future humans and it also detracts funds from more worthy lines of stem cell research. I think the first argument about killing people in their embryonic stage has been addressed ad nausea, so I will deal exclusively with the other argument.

It is important to note that there is no research in his article. There is not a quotation from anyone that says the aid is fungible and trades off with each other. Maybe the embryonic stem cell research money would go into weapons research. Stauble Sr. has a conjecture that it would instead go into non-embryonic stem cell research. Here’s the catch of his argument: if the two research fields are so similar that the money is necessarily split between them, then the research is also so similar that a benefit in one area will benefit the other. Stauble Sr. has constructed a false choice, a binary that does not hold true.

Now, let us assume that he is correct about the research drain argument. His proof about the ills of embryonic research is suspect. He claims only tumors have been developed. While he is correct that embryonic research has not yielded the beneficial results non-embryonic research has, it would be a mistake to conclude that it will always be nonproductive. Notice the examples he cites: liver repair and bone repair. The afflictions embryonic research looks at are far more difficult and debilitating. Parkinson’s Disease cannot be treated by the non-embryonic stem cell research. In a sense Stauble Sr. is correct that we do need to make choices between the results of embryonic and non-embryonic research, but we need to be clear what it is we are really choosing: mending bones and livers or mending the brain and spinal injuries. Do not forget that the trade-off is not a clear either/or decision. It is possible to have both forms of research, but Stauble Sr. would have us forgo helping anyone with certain afflictions.